Younger people are being forced to compete with baby boomers for the limited inventory of available homes, and they’re losing out and therefore make up a smaller share of home buyers today than in previous years.
That’s according to a report from Zillow that looked at the age, sex, race and income of home buyers over the last ten years.
Demand for housing has skyrocketed over the past 18 months, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to many experts. But Zillow’s report suggests that demographic trends are responsible for the increased demand too. It found that individuals aged 30 and older are buying homes at a much higher rate than they were a decade ago.
Over the last ten years, as millennials have grown into their peak home buying years, Americans aged 60 and over have been more active in the housing market than the same age group was in the previous decade. Zillow’s study, which crucially was focused on buying activity pre-pandemic, found that from 2009 to 2019 the proportion of buyers aged 60+ rose by 47%, while the share of buyers aged 18 to 39 dropped 13%. Moreover, the median age of home buyers rose from 40 in 2009 to 44 in 2019.
Zillow notes that home values have risen by 31.2% over the same time frame. And in the past two years, home prices have appreciated by an extra 22%. There’s no end in sight either, as Goldman Sachs predicts home prices to gain another 16% in 2022.
The drastic price increases are giving existing homeowners a massive advantage. Anyone who owns a home is benefiting from enormous equity growth or seeing the value of their asset rising tremendously. That gives them a huge advantage in bidding wars against younger buyers who are trying to buy their first home. Cash offers are known to get higher priority in the majority of bidding wars, and existing homeowners are far more likely to be in position to make one.
Zillow Senior Economist Jeff Tucker said the analysis shows that baby boomers ‘ increased home buying activity means first-time buyers face much stiffer competition than their counterparts in previous generations did. “Older buyers have the advantage of a lifetime’s worth of savings and home equity to leverage in a competitive offer,” he pointed out.
It’s not just home prices and the fact baby boomers are wealthier. The survey found that other half of non-homeowner millennials reported having student debts that make it more difficult for them to save for a down payment and pay off a mortgage.
Added to that is the construction slowdown that arose from the Great Recession of the 2000s. Homebuilders have reportedly underbuilt by around five million homes since that time, leading to a shortage of housing. Now, that shortage is worsening as builders today struggle with labor and supply shortages.
These factors, combined, are the most likely reason why first-time buyers’ share of the market has fallen from 46% in 2018 to just 37% this year, Zillow said.
Tucker said that even before the coronavirus pandemic, the combination of millennials being the largest generation ever and just entering their 30s, and the decade of underbuilding, were on a collision course that would define today’s housing market.
“The pandemic supercharged demand for housing, bringing the shortage into relief sooner than we expected as millennials sought bigger homes with Zoom rooms and older Americans accelerated retirement plans, spurring moving decisions,” Tucker said.
Zillow noted that many of those forces were already in place prior to the pandemic, with home buyers everywhere seeking affordability where possible.
Markets in the Sun Belt have been drawing new buyers for years – Jacksonville, for example, had the highest share of households that had purchased their home within the past year in 2019, at 5.6%. Other popular and affordable retirement areas, such as Tampa (5.5%), Denver (5.4%), Phoenix (5.4%) and Nashville (5.1%) were not far behind. Meanwhile, super-expensive areas such as San Francisco (2.9%), New York (2.6%) and Los Angeles (2.1%) had the lowest share of recent buyers.
Zillow’s analysis shows that younger buyers are having more luck in some of the less expensive metros, though this is possibly only because they’re forced to look their after being priced out of other areas. In Buffalo, for instance, younger buyers aged 18 to 39 made up 57% of the market, while in Salt Lake City they had a 56% share. One key exception to the rule was San Jose, where 54% of buyers were aged 18 to 39 despite housing in the area being very expensive. Zillow said this was likely due to salaries in the technology mecca being much higher than average.
Some analysts believe this shift, with younger buyers increasingly seeking out more affordable homes in other parts of the country, will likely increase with the emergence of remote work, which offers people far greater flexibility over where they live.